Monday, June 18, 2012

The Benford Plagiarism Dossier 03

No real need to read this now, but proof that Postcards from BalloonLandis mine.

Done some checking on MY provenance (Alex Keegan)

Postcards From BalloonLand

My story owes its genesis to a series of incidents on a family holiday to Disney Land, Florida, which took place in 1980.

My children Toby and Clare were very small and they had both wanted balloons, silver ones, the types filled with helium. We duly bought them one each but soon after Clare let hers go and was inconsolable. I stopped her crying by explaining about Balloonland and how her balloon was now very happy!

We bought a replacement balloon and tied them to their wrists this time, but the kids undid the string and (to their delight) sent their balloons to Balloonland. So my story had to be quickly extended to prevent balloons 4 & 5 following.

Years later I was split from Toby & Clare's mother and had been a survivor of the Clapham rail Crash (December 1988.) I had been trying to write on and off since aged 19 (born 1947) and had made a short list aged 39 with a short novel, but like many wannabees I was not particularly disciplined or sure of the way forward.

The Clapham Crash (I was lucky not to be killed) focussed my mind and I started writing more regularly, and some time in 1989 or 1990 I wrote the first draft of "Postcards" which was FAR too long, and left nothing out. (I was still learning!)

At about this time I also joined Compuserve and became internet-friendly with many writers including the now New York Top 10 writer Diana Gabaldon.

In 1991 I collected my stories together and published them using the pseudonym Vincent Pinke  in a leather-bound collection. (I still have this.) Not "self-publishing" as such, just for me and posterity. Included in that collection is, wait for it, Postcards From Balloonland (monstrously over-long, about 6,000 words, but hey!) I had been submitting my hopeless stories and getting nowhere fast. However, I edited Postcards down to 4,800 words and entered it in The Ian St James Awards 1991 or 1992.

In October 1992, 45, now a house-husband with a new baby on the way, I decided to "get serious" and gave myself 5 years to make it. I was still writing short-stories and trying to start novels (one was a typical me-me horrid autobiographical thing.)

In April 1992 I had attended The Southampton Writers Conference, and I did the same in 1993, where I spoke to Caroline Oakley then of Headline Books. Subsequent to that I submitted 25,000 words of a "Caz Flood" crime novel. I was encouraged to complete the work and sold a three-book deal in October 1993, the first book "Cuckoo" coming out in 1994.

As I worked harder and learned NOT to put everything in, I had edited down my monster to 4,800, then in 1983, Cosmopolitan Magazine launched a short-story competition "based on a postcards or letter."

I decided to enter this so edited "Postcards" to death, mercilessly hacking it down to 1,999 words (limit 2K) and duly entered.

In January 1993 (or 1994) I received a letter from Cosmo telling me I had made the final 12 and had won some Basildon Bond Writing stuff (woopdeedoo!)

The winner was a Scottish lady called Armstrong and Rachel Cusk was 4th.

So I have a print version dated 1991, a shorter version in a 1991/92 competition and an even shorter version read by the Cosmo judges.

My first book (Cuckoo) came out in Summer 1994 but my first print publication was an article in ACCLAIM (forerunner to The New Writer) February 1994. In that article it clearly discusses my entries into the ISJ so these were 1989-1993 (actually they were 89-90-91.

Just before my first book was due out I attended my third Southampton Writers Conference where I ran a tutorial and gave readings. I publicly read the short version of Postcards at this conference and one woman broke down in tears!

Subsequently (still at the conference) I met John Jenkins, then editor of Raconteur and he asked me to send him a couple of stories. One was "Postcards" and he published that in Raconteur 5 (1995) and another "A Pint of Bitter" in Raconteur 7.

The story was also published in Raw Fiction (Canada) Vol1 issue 2 in early 1966.

In 1996 it was also published on line at "212-New York" and it was in my collection "Ballistics" published by SALT Publishing,  December 2008

Postcards has been extensively referenced on the internet

Sometimes, the sensitization is trivial, arguably crude, but still can work. A very early story of mine was called "Postcards From Balloonland." In it a man, who knows he has not long to live, takes his wife and two young children to Disneyland. The opening was three postcards and the story said resolutely unsold. It was a poignant story but the postcards, seen alone looked like, well, boring holiday postcards!

The problem was solved by pre-emption, by as British footballers says, "Getting your retaliation in first". In front of the postcards, bold, italic, centred, highlighted I put:

There are things we should say, things we should not; And there are things we want to say but have never learned how.

This looks to my cynical, more experienced eye, a little twee now, a little forced, but by 'eck did it work! That unplaceable story immediately made print and was reprinted half-a-dozen times. The salter, the pre-sensitizer got the editors to read the "light" postcards with a different eye, a different ear, a different sensibility. The reader was made to absorb in a different way, slowly, building, knowing that this is doing something.


One of my very early stories, "Postcards from Balloonland" was about a man who knew he was going to die, taking his kids to Disney. It opened with three postcards, one from each of his two older children, one from his wife. After we get the text of his cards, we get him, a context and he posts the cards back to England. Since the story revolves around balloons and postcards this opening was important to me but the story (also too long, needing an edit) kept being rejecting and failing in competitions. Until one day I chose to put two lines of bold italic centered text before the postcards, the content of which, like Lois Peterson's hair-cutting dialogue, is "tame".

The two liner was:

There are things we should say, things we should not. And there are things we want to say but have never learned how.

The story immediately made a final and a small prize, then won $800 runner up prize in another competition and thereafter reprinted in Canada and the US. And just two lines transformed it!

Why? I think because the two-liner says, "What comes next might look quiet but it will be profound, it will matter. Trust me." In a sense, this is like those stories you think have ordinary openings but the author's name is famous. For those with big names, they can promise profundity and meaning simply by reputation. They get more attention. We who still seek that elevated status have to apply tricks of creating import, mood, ways of seeing.


An early success of mine, "Postcards from BalloonLand," began as a 5,500 word monster, was cut to 1,999 words and made a final, then was smoothed out at 2,150 to earn a thousand dollars in various printings. You can always cut. Never believe you cannot.

Further the total editorial processes were extensively discussed on Compuserve under the watchful eye of Diana Gabaldon, now a New York Times Top ten author, and the author John Ravenscroft was given a breakdown of the process totalling 12,500 words.

The idea that I could invent a LONGER story and then show my editing processes reducing it to this plagiarist's 2,150 words beggars belief.

On 12 Jun 2012, at 07:41, Nigel Allinson wrote:


I've also ordered JB's paperback 2nd edition of Coming Up for Air which contains Postcards From Balloonland.  The first (hardback) edition was published on 31st July 2005.  The 2nd edition (paperback) was published in July 2008 with some revisions.

Ballistics was published in December 2008 so if you want me to be a credible witness I need to be able to verify that the story was published by you before her 1st edition.

Any attempt at claiming plagiarism on her part may provoke a counter-claim given the publication dates of what is in the public domain at the moment.  I have looked (aka googled) for references to the earlier instances of the story.

I have found your reference to it in some blog posts from Dec 1998 & Jan, Feb 1999:

These web pages would be date stamped so you may want to get the website to verify the dates of your original postings as evidence if you're planning a court action or an accusation.

I have not yet found any copies of the story itself on the web (using WebCrawler etc).

I hope this is useful.

Subject: Re: My story plagiarised and on sale at Amazon
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2012 23:34:09 +0100

No idea, Nigel.

I thought Ballistics had sold out!

The story is identical (unless there were tiny edits for the collection (can't remember) including the formatting!!

Here off my PC (word)

I wrote it in 1989-1990 (the original, longer version) and this version was a finalist in Cosmopolitan SS of the year 1993
then out in Raconteur, then Raw Fiction (Canada) and The Large Print Literary Reader. Was on the web too

Postcards from BalloonLand

There are things we should say, things we should not.
And there are things we want to say but have never learned how.

Dear Dawn.
We’re in DisneyLand! Dad promised us that if it was the last thing he ever did we were going to go to America and go to Florida and go to Orlando and go to Disney and stop in the Contemporary Resort. It’s very hot. The grass is funny. There are hundreds of dead good things in the shops.
                  Love Rachel.

Hi Robert!
    The Frog wants to go to the Magic Kingdom tomorrow and do all the girlie rides. Dad says we have to wait until Friday to go to EPCOT. The Contemporary Resort Hotel is brilliant! There’s a monorail goes right through the building! It took nine hours to get here. We saw Concorde! Dad had a headache when we landed. Mam said it was because of the flight. Gotta go. Bet you wish you were here!
         Love Ben.

Dear Millie,
    I hope you and Dad are well. The flight was far better than I expected. There was so much for me to do that I forgot to be frightened! Peter was very tired, Rachel led him round everywhere by the hand. They bought me perfume. I told Peter off for spending but he just laughed and said, ‘What’s money?’ The kids played Scrabble most of the flight. Peter fell asleep in my lap.
                  Your loving daughter, Margaret.

He was Peter. Soft red curly hair, blue, bright eyes, thirty-three; married to Margaret, father to Benjamin, to Rachel and to three-year old Tobias. He read their postcards again. Rachel’s card was a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger in front of a blue-grey castle. The holiday was costing a fortune but he knew he had never spent money more wisely. Before they left, he told Margaret that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip and not to worry about the expense. It was all taken care of, he said. The look on the kids’ faces when he told them was sheer joy.
    Peter watched Toby pressing his face to a toy-shop window in the hotel concourse. There was a time when he might have been impatient, but not now, not any more. Nothing mattered any more. He was on holiday. He wanted to wear a silly hat and look gormless.
    Tonight, he would make up another story for the kids and sit on that huge hotel bed with their spiky arms and legs hooked into him. He would whisper little messages to Margaret and later they would make love, very, very slowly, the kids a mangled heap on the other bed.
    He looked down at Rachel.
    ‘Dad. Can we have balloons? Like those?’
    They were large, bright, helium filled silver balls, stretching towards the sky on soft string. They bought three. Margaret tied them, one each, to small wrists. Immediately, Toby began to pick at his.
    ‘Don’t!’ Margaret said, ‘you’ll lose it!’
    ‘Free it, don’t you mean?’ Peter said softly.
    She looked at him. He looked dreamy and lost.

    They went for drinks, found a cafĂ©. They were outside and a small bird appeared on their table, picking between their drinks, pecking at crumbs. ‘It’s pretty!’ Rachel said.

Toby was the first to lose his balloon. He burst into tears. Margaret sat down and held him. Behind her, Rachel let her balloon go, looked up, then cried like her brother.
    Peter pulled his girl into him. He felt giddy, but he swept her up and wrapped her in his comfort, strutting and spinning around, her gold head pressed into his hot neck.
    ‘Hey, Sweetheart,’ he said, the world still turning. ‘There’s a good brave girl. Fancy you knowing about BalloonLand.’
    Rachel sniffed.
    ‘I did, diddun I? Tell you?’
    She shook her head. Well, no wonder! They didn’t know about BalloonLand! ‘Didn’t I ever tell you about BalloonLand?’
    He called them together and they sat on the grass.
    ‘I told you, Ben, yes? Last year?’
    Ben shook his head.
    ‘Well, I never!’ Peter said. Then to the ground he said, ‘They don’t know about BalloonLand. Well I never!’ He leaned back, his hands clasped behind his head, sun in his face. The kids were leaning forward. ‘Well, I never!’ he said and closed his eyes.
    Toby squeaked at him, ‘Tell, tell!’
    ‘Tell us, Daddy,’ Rachel said.
    ‘Oh, Dad!’ Ben said.
    He opened one eye. ‘I think you’d better,’ Margaret said.
    He sat up.
    ‘When balloons are born, when they’re born, they are flat and sad and don’t know what to do. If people don’t fill them up, blow them up, they never get to feel big or bouncy or pretty or anything.’
    He had them.
    ‘You know when you see balloons in their packets?’
    Toby was nodding, his eyes wide.
    ‘You know how flat they are... And they don’t smell nice and they’re all dusty?
    ‘Well, they want to be blown up. That’s what balloons are for.
    ‘People were invented to let balloons be blown up.
    ‘But there’s a problem, there’s a big problem when a balloon gets bigger...
    ‘When a balloon is flat, nothing happens. They are just waiting there, waiting to be blown up. So they can do things. So they can go flying in the sky.
    ‘People know balloons are very special things.
    ‘That’s why we have them at birthday parties and at Christmas.
    ‘People want to keep their balloons. They want to keep being happy.        ‘They think that if they keep their balloon it will stay a happy time and everyone will keep on having a lovely time. But!’
    Toby nodded again.
    ‘But balloons were made to fly. They want to go back to BalloonLand.
    ‘You know at a party?’
    ‘You know at a party, how the balloons go up and stick on the ceiling?
    They were all nodding.
    ‘Well, they are trying to go home.
    ‘You see... ‘ He pulled them to him, the warmth of his family an ache in his gut. ‘You see, balloons are like very special birds. They can’t sing but they make people sing sometimes. So they come alive for birthdays, but then, after, they want to go.
    ‘You know if you keep a balloon?
    ‘If you keep a balloon, what happens? It goes all droopy and wrinkly and it gets sad. If you keep a balloon for a very long time, all its balloon-ness leaks out and it sort of goes to sleep again.’
    Toby looked faintly worried.
    ‘But if you let a balloon GO! If you let a balloon GO! It goes UP in the sky, straight off to BalloonLand. And if a balloon gets to BalloonLand it NEVER goes down and it’s happy and bouncy and can fly for EVER. BalloonLand is full right up of every single balloon that you could ever imagine. Red ones, yellow ones, blue ones, fat ones, wiggly ones...
    ‘So just think. Right now, in BalloonLand there’s - ’
    ‘My balloon!’ said Toby.
    ‘And mine!’ Rachel said.

It was later when Benjamin undid his bonds and released his balloon. They couldn’t complain and Ben looked supremely satisfied. After lunch, Margaret bought three more balloons and diligently fixed them to three wrists. Just as diligently, the cords were loosened and the balloons released. Peter groaned, his eyes rolling but the kids were already clamouring for more. Margaret thought it funny.
    ‘Six dollars! How you gonna get out of that one, maestro?’
    He was a little tired. He sat down and called them to him again. He need to explain, explain about balloon jams. ‘Hey kids, come here!’ he said.
    ‘When balloons get to BalloonLand; if there are lots arriving at the same time, they have to wait outside. And they might go down while they are waiting. That’s why we keep them on strings for a while. So we can let them go every now and then. To stop the jams.’
    He looked to his wife, aching. Was that all right? Margaret smiled. She told them how, tomorrow, they could keep their balloons all day and then they could set them free, in the evening, after the balloon rush-hour. She was still smiling, the sun coming through her hair, so Peter continued and told the kids that the jams were because BalloonLand only had one way in. The BalloonLand bosses wanted to make another way in but balloons didn’t know how to build entrances.
    ‘So really, they could do with some grown up humans to do the building for them. But it’s very hard for humans to get back from BalloonLand so they have to wait for volunteers.’
    As they walked back towards the exits at the end of the day, a balloon sailed diagonally past and over them. Somewhere distant was a crying child but their children were jubilant.
    Margaret looked at Peter. ‘You old sod!’ she whispered. ‘I love you!’
    Peter was soundly asleep when they arrived back at the resort. Margaret woke him and he walked like a zombie into the hotel. The next morning, she had trouble waking him but he eventually stirred and followed her down to breakfast. The kids were asking about balloons so he said he would ring up and get a traffic report. He left them, used the phone and came back, nodding to Margaret, then telling the kids that Balloonway One was chokker-block with balloons. Apparently, he said, there’d been a lot of parties in Australia the night before and they were still dealing with a back-log from the Olympics. He whispered that they could probably manage a few balloons late that afternoon.
They stayed another week, used the Jacuzzi every morning, lazily swam in the hotel pool as the evenings drew in. Then their fortnight suddenly was over and Nanna and Grancha Bill were coming to Orlando to take the children back to Grancher’s farm. When they met, the two women embraced. Bill shook Peter’s hand before pulling him close and hugging him silently.
    The grand-parents and the children flew back the following night. Peter tried hard to keep the mood light as they prepared to board their 747. Earlier, they had let five balloons off to a count of one-two-three and cheered as they sailed into space. Margaret had chosen to dress them all in Mickey Mouse clothing and little Toby was complete with a black big-eared cap. When it was actually time to go, they hugged, first as a family, then Peter alone held each child in turn, smelling them, feeling the breaths, sensing their heartbeats. After holding Benjamin, he stood back and held his hand seriously, like a man. He made a face at them all as their Nanna led them away.
Margaret drove the car south to Miami while Peter slept. They had booked into a wonderful hotel at the head of the Keys and the following day, they walked hand-in-hand on quiet printless sand. They were caught in a sudden fat rainstorm but chose to enjoy it, laughing, their heads back, savouring its warmth.
    They drove on that afternoon, drifting towards Key West. They stopped at a little harbour where Margaret ate from an incredible seafood buffet. Peter had no appetite but they sipped wine together and talked quietly. That night, they were asleep at six, Peter cradled in her neck, her gentle hands stroking his head. The next day they did nothing but lay together on top of the sheets, a copper fan phudding above them.
    At their destination, they ate in romantic restaurants and drank in rough bars. In the evenings, they drifted along to the pier to watch the sunset. They stopped to buy books. Peter chose three, stopped, then replaced two. Every night she held him. They were closer than they’d every been.

He had made all sorts of arrangements, all sorts of plans. Once he had had so many dreams. On their last day in the Keys, for Margaret he had found a watercolour of balloons over Paris and from a staggered shop-keeper he bought a complete supply of postcards, all of balloons. While Margaret drove north, Peter wrote carefully on card after card. Each message was different, each card dated oddly. As they arrived back on the mainland, he was tired and his writing was less fluid. They stopped in Miami. Peter was asleep again so Margaret arranged the check-in.
    They flew to the clinic next day. While their plane drifted in to land, he explained again how she should use the cards. The children would receive one every birthday, one at Christmas, one on the day their father was born. He told her that Ben, Rachel and Toby should stay children as long as possible. He was going away but they would know how to contact him.
    Someone had to help build the new entrance at the other end of Balloonway One. If he volunteered, they could send him messages any time they wanted. He had arranged to be at check-in the first Friday of every month.
     They could write to him care of BalloonLand.           

On 11 Jun 2012, at 23:12, Nigel Allinson wrote:

  Nigel Allinson ( is not on your Guest List | Approve sender | Approve domain

I work in the software industry so I have a particularly strong attitude on theft and piracy.  Plagiarism is just a jumped up term typical of the literary profession (in my non-literary view).  More industrialised callings call it what it is, and would say, simply, that these people need to be crushed like beetles.  Which is what they are.

I bought Ballistics tonight on Amazon.  I will also buy the e-book single.

I will note any possible similarities and will take your steer on how best to flag these to the retailer and any other party you wish me to.  I will ask friends to do likewise.

As I am purchasing both stories from the same retailer do you know what liability they may have in this matter?

Best regards,
Nigel Allinson

Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2012 19:45:03 +0100
Subject: My story plagiarised and on sale at Amazon

An ancient story of mine


Published in Print in Raconteur, in Raw Alibi, in The Large Print Literary reader, in my collection Ballistics
(and various other places, and on line)

has been ripped off and is being published by Amazon both as an e-book "single"
and as part of a volume in this rip-off author's "Ring" series.

Postcards From BalloonLand
Joanne Benford (Author, Illustrator)

Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
Available for download now
Product Description
A heart warming and moving story of an ordinary man’s love for his family, and the true meaning of balloons.‘There are things we should say, things we should not. And there are things we want to say but have never learned how.’A beautiful short story, taken from the second of... Read More

If this was some dozy little twerp I might not mind (too much)
but this woman has a BA in Lit Fic, an MA in Lit Fic
and a PhD in LitFic and has God knows how many
published books out there.

Please DO NOT (yet) spread the word about this plagiarism
or contact the author, but could you please use your network
to get as many people as possible to eyeball the story on line
at Amazon US or Amazon UK (as soon as possible) so that

I have as many witnesses as possible

and if any of you feel like investing 77p or so, please download the single?

 She is an Open University TUTOR!!


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